It's a Questions of Power, Isn't It?

Force Times Distance / Tape Side A

Poster Campaign by Lydienne Albertoe and Mariavittoria Campodonico (Werkplaats Typografie)

sonsbeek20→24: Force Times Distance, On Labour and its Sonic Ecologies took place from 2 July until 29 August 2021. The curatorial framework of this first iteration of sonsbeek20→24 centered around labour and its sonicities, connected a millenary history crossing times and geographies to the present moment, through a multitude of voices, sounds, and ripples. It invited us to listen to the sounds relegated to the ‘edges’ of the ‘main’ motive, to the whispered stories, to those passed through singing and through story-telling, and embodied narratives. An edition that inhabited the absence from the dominant image. An edition that drew particular attention to that which has been written otherwise—in singing, playing, performing, dancing, caring, in polyphonic rhythms and multiple motherless-tongues thanks to which memories, traditions, spiritualities, entire cosmologies crossed oceans and deserts. This edition aimed to reveal the complex labour relations and inequalities that show who is (un)seen, who is (in)dispensable, who is seemingly worth our applause, and who is fawningly silent.

With more than 200 contributions and artistic positions in 14 different locations, sonsbeek20→24 expanded its original format of an exhibition in Arnhem’s Park Sonsbeek, to a multiplicity of manifestations in and beyond the city of Arnhem. Including airplane hangars, vaults, military schools, radio, museums, a private foundation, two churches, a festival, a guard house, community libraries and centers, barber shops, a.o., this first public edition questioned and stretched the notion of public space and public art. 

We invited 40 contemporary artists/collectives from all over the world to exhibit in Arnhem. 20 new commissions were developed and produced for the exhibition and presented alongside 24 existing artworks across the city. Many of the exhibiting artists and authorial voices included in the programme were presenting their work in the Netherlands for the first time.

The exhibited artworks were designed to offer multiple entry points, enabling audiences to differently engage with the ideas underpinning the exhibition. For instance, the work by Wendelien van Oldenborgh and Erika Hock extended into a Sunday Kino programme, open to differ- ent groups and communities. Werker Collective produced their work in collaboration with students based at ArtEZ. Jennifer Tee created a participatory weekly performance where she collaborated with different choreographers and invited audiences to become active participants (this work was selected as the legacy piece of the festival and will be placed in a permanent location in the city).

The exhibition was modulated according to five frequencies, structured around five movements. Each movement related to an event, anecdote, historical occurrence or art practice relating to Arnhem, the Netherlands, and to labour and the sonic. The frequencies that tied the exhibition across sites and programmes could be visibly seen through the branding (colours) for the exhibition at each site, explored through the app as a route of engagement across works and unpacked as entry points into the ideas and concepts underlying the exhibition.

Programme Partnerships
sonsbeek20→24 created partnerships with 14 institutions in and around Arnhem. Each partnership was established utilising different modalities.

Museum Arnhem. As a long-standing principal partner, Museum Arnhem co-commissioned new works, support- ed the presentation of existing artwork and contributed financially to the exhibition. Their partnership was integral to secure new exhibition spaces (with Museum Arnhem currently undertaking a capital development project) and expand our network of audiences and participants in our projects. They directly supported artists Louis Henderson & João Polido, Ibrahim Mahama, Hira Nabi, Nader Mo- hamed Saadallah, Alida Ymele, Buhlebezwe Siwani.

Kröller-Müller Museum. As a co-commissioning partner Kröller-Müller supported the realisation of four new com- missions across two locations, including WALTER books. The artists they directly supported are Cheick Diallo, Julieta Aranda, Leo Asemota.

The festival took place in multiple locations across the city. Alongside our commissioning partners, the other cultural partners that hosted elements of the exhibition were: Collectie De Groen, Showroom Arnhem, Collectie De.Groen, Machinerie of Me, WALTER books, Waalse Kerk, Rozet and in Park Sonsbeek, Park Zypendaal, Nationaal Park De Hoge Veluwe, Buitenplaats Koningsweg, De Stadsvilla.


The curatorial team has carefully orchestrated a curatorial framework along different frequencies that center around the topics of labour and its sonicities. Think of sound, oral stories, and music. sonsbeek is about histories and how they affect society. About asking the questions of who made the Netherlands what it is today. How is value produced? What is seen? Who is heard? But also, in the sonsbeek-spirit of reconstruction: how are we going to recover and reshape society following a pandemic? How can we forge a new way of living together where there is room for everyone's story and everyone's history? The curators have composed an exhibition styled as a jam session, surpassing strategies of visual art, and expanding into music, stories, and performances.

Artworks by:
Louis Henderson & João Polido Gomes, Ibrahim Mahama, Hira Nabi, Nader Mohamed Saadallah, Alida Ymele, Buhlebezwe Siwani

To placate those the night surprised in their noons;
those we loaded with lead;
pushed to dungeons and makeshift graves;
to absolve our irretrievable selves
from the badger of willow-whips lurking in time.

We need no mourners in our stride,
no remorse, no tears.
Only this: Resolve
that the locust shall never again visit our farmsteads

Excerpt from Odia Ofeimun's “Resolve”

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung: For many, work is very much associated with routine, specific circuits, mundane procedures; with rituals. The rituals of waking up at a certain hour, preparing for the day, the journey to the work-place, the dynamics of relations with colleagues and managers/chiefs, patterns of rest, the songs one sings to kill time or soothe the spirits while repetitive or mechanical actions occur.

This frequency summons reflections — directly and tangentially — about the rituals of seen and unseen labour. Here work includes family chores, care and domestic work as much as other forms of labour f.e. Begging or activism, usually not considered under this umbrella because the form of economic remuneration is not direct or is completely absent. Too many works that have care and conviviality and hospitality at their core are practiced under very precarious conditions. Despite the precariousness, many of the workers performing them — most of whom are working class, women and/or migrants within our societies — show the most resilience and resolve. It isn’t rare to encounter mothers raising children and jobbing, migrants juggling multiple odd or precarious jobs to make ends meet, or those from the working class doing what is often considered as “mean” jobs, which include essential jobs like care work and cleaning. The artists clustered in this frequency invoke the routines and rituals of spiritual healers, factory workers, politicians and ghosts, domestic workers, dockers and ship-dismantlers, craftsmen and -women losing their trades upon automation, mechanical work and more. These rituals are often facilitated, greased, catalysed or just accompanied by multiple sediments of sonority that echo within and across the exhibition.

This frequency is developed in collaboration with Museum Arnhem.

Artworks by:
Leo Asemota, Mae-Ling Lokko & Gustavo Crembil, Jennifer Tee, Ndidi Dike, Julieta Aranda

O dawn
Where do you hide your paints at night
That cool breath, that scent,
With which you sweeten the early air?
O dawn
What language do you use
To instruct the birds to sing
Their early songs
And insects to sound
The rhythm of an African heartbeat?

Excerpt from Susan Lwanga's “Daybreak"

BSBN: Even the break of dawn is not saved from work. In many cultures around the world it is understood that work is not only done by humans but by other living and not living beings and entities. It is work for dawn to sweeten the air, as much as it is work for it to instruct the birds to sing. It is work for birds to sing and thereby inform other animals including humans of the break of dawn.

Once upon a time, as legend goes, some Western researchers traveled to Zimbabwe to understand how the Mbira musicians and their music could make people fall into a state of trance. After wiring the brains of people falling into trance as well as the musicians for an MRI scan, the scientists were not satisfied with their result, and when they confronted the musician as to why they couldn’t see much in the MRI scans, s/he replied that the Western scientists had ignored the agency of the Mbira instrument itself. While the researchers focused on the activity of the musician and the dancers, they failed to acknowledge the labour of the instruments themselves. The work that ants, insects of all kinds, mycelia, whales and other sea animals, soil, plants — living and dead, as trees or spices or otherwise — are at the crux of the works of the artists in this frequency.

Regarding humankind as the most important element of existence is a limiting factor in the conceptualisation and comprehension of the world in which we live in. This is why this project does not restrict the notion of labour to humans alone. As the Cameroonian saying goes “you no fit tie koki wit wan hand.” Which is to say that humans are only a part of the equation and for the equation to be complete, one must consider the labour of all other non human beings and non beings.

Artworks by:
The Black Archives in collaboration with Yinka Ilori, Willem de Rooij, Anne Duk Hee Jordan, Farkhondeh Shahroudi, Wendelien van Oldenborgh in collaboration with Erika Hock, Libita Sibungu, Oscar Murillo, Ellen Gallagher, Werker Collective

1 The Elegance of Memory
Distances separate bodies not people. Ask
Those who have known sadness or joy
The bone of feeling is pried open
By a song, the elegance
Of colour a familiar smell, this
Flower or the approach of an evening…


The elegance of memory,
Deeper than the grave
Where she went before I could
Know her sadness, is larger
Than the distance between
My county and I. Things more solid
Than the rocks with which those sinister
Thieves tried to break our back


There are memories between us
Deeper than grief. There are
Feelings between us much stronger
Than the cold enemy machine that breaks
The back. Sister, there are places between us
Deeper than the ocean, no distances.
Pry your heart open, brother, mine too,
Learn to love the clear voice
The music in the memory pried
Open to the bone of feeling, no distances


Excerpt from Keorapetse Kgositsile's "Point of departure: fire dance fire song"

BSBN: There is a yawning gap between histories and memories. A gap that seems to ever widen between knowledges, or at least what one is supposed to know, and memories, or at least what one is supposed to remember. There is information sedimented in the crevices of the past, and the nooks and crannies of the present that are asking to be dug out through a process, or from a space, that one might call memory.

The artists in this frequency are rummaging in those spaces. Spaces that are deeper than grief and grave: Real or constructed memories whose existence oscillates between where one is and where one was, or was meant to be. They comb through invisible and visible, sonic and somatic archives. They explore memories of African peoples abducted and dispersed in the world, memories of the historically disenfranchised and colonised, memories of oceanic ecosystems, memories embedded in and those left out of colonial archives. Memories anchored in non-Western epistemologies and aesthetics that manifest themselves as geometrical patterns and colour palettes, in textiles, in craftmanship (of f.e. Azerbaijani Shabaka), in foods and spices taken/extracted from far away places — alongside those humans and other wealths grabbed — that have become normalised in the quotidian menus of Western cuisine. Memories in textiles, or memories in craftsmanship This frequency is a deliberation on what is inherited, as well as the heritage of collective memory, the embodiment of memories and their spatialization.

Artworks by:
stanley brouwn, Sedje Hémon, Kudzanai-Violet Hwami & Belinda Zhawi, Imran Mir, Ndidi Dike, Abdias do Nascimento, Mithu Sen, Olu Oguibe, Farkhondeh Shahroudi

Yet fear shall fail to conquer our warmth
Since each has
A sunny side of a cause to serve,
Though distant cries come breaking
On our threshold
And homes tremble
With the terror of the earth,
Though glories are uprooted
And many more shall be.
Though heroes lament
Birds wail
Fowls feast
And waterfalls sucked dry
Yet fear shall fail to conquer our warmth.

Excerpt from Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin's "fear shall fail"

BSBN: It demands, sometimes, an incredible amount of tenacity, of stamina, of stubbornness, just to do the kind of work one is called upon to do, or fulfil the vision, the vocation bestowed on someone. Being an artist is considered in many societies as not adequate enough of a profession, as society might not be convinced of one’s ability to win one’s bread, or society, sometimes, bluntly considers this a craft for those left behind. As if that were not enough, when the artists pursue their vision, it is not a given that their art, the form and language of expression they have chosen sits well with what the world expects of them. All the artists in this frequency have gone more than the extra mile of what their societies and others expected of them — with chutzpah and perseverance, overcoming many sociopolitical, economic and artistic hurdles to follow their vocations. In form and content, their works defy norms set for what is to be understood as modernity, conceptual art, notation systems, language, femininity, justice, blackness, health and wealth, able and disabled bodies, or even what kind of work is normal or not. But it is not only the steadfastness of the artist with which this frequency concerns itself, but the strength, the stamina, the grit of most of their subjects. Take for example what it means to practice as a sex worker in the world today. In a time when sex work is increasingly stigmatised, in which legal spaces where sex labour can be practiced are shut down, allowing for the flourishing of illegal, violent and more precarious conditions for sex workers. It demands extreme tenacity to practice under such conditions. Take another example, the resilience of the maroons that fought themselves out of the plantations of Brazil to create quilombos in the outskirts in which they tried to set up societies reminiscent of their African ones. It demands extreme tenacity to have survived such conditions then, and it still does now. It demands to overcome fear. This is why this frequency is also about defying that emotion , for “yet fear shall fail to conquer our warmth.”

Artworks by:
Sam Auinger, Cheick Diallo, Antonio Jose Guzman & Iva Jankovic, Laure Prouvost, Omer Wasim, raumlabor, Justine Gaga, Sunette Viljoen


Origins trouble the voyager much, those roots
that have sipped the waters of another continent.
Africa is gigantic, one cannot begin
to know even the strange behaviour furthest
south in my xenophobic department.
Come back, come back mayibuye
cried the breakers of stone and cried the crowds
cried Mr Kumalo before the withering fire
mayibuye Afrika


Excerpt from Arthur Nortje’s "Waiting"

BSBN: Besides the histories written about certain spaces, the memories of these spaces actually lie both in the collective bodies that inhabit themand in their materialities, in their spatial conditions. The Beninese artist, George Adeagbo, in a conversation, once said that whenever he has to do an exhibition in a space, the first thing he does is to talk to the spirits that live there. This could be understood as meaning that he tries to listen deep into the memory of the space. To rummage in their profound archives. Every space has a memory. A memory of those who have come in and out of the space, and a memory of things that have happened in that space. There is a popular adage that “walls have ears.” At no point should one have the need to doubt the veracity of this adage, as spaces - material and immaterial - receive and emanate energies. Therefore they can listen to as much as they can send out information.

In this frequency, artists create spaces, create universes in which we can immerse ourselves. Space of and for commonality. These spaces are epistemic spaces, in which knowledge is dissipated once one is within, as much as they are phenomenological spaces that need to be experienced with all the senses of one’s being and that shape one’s experience. Visitors are invited upon a peripatetic experience along an axis of over 18km that connects Arnhem centre to the Kröller Müller Museum via the Sonsbeek park and Zijpendaal park a.o. Visitors are invited to dwell in an architectural structure reminiscent of Dogon architecture and a tweaked basket, navigate indigo framed spaces crafted with data from human genome, and we are invited to delve into surrealistic ecologies of the subconscious to experience undercurrents.

In this frequency we are also taken on a journey through gardens and other queer spaces, in Karachi and beyond, in which gender, desire, longing and sexuality are uncategorisable, and we are invited on a raft on a lake, calling to memory a floating university, a floating market and archipelagic spaces that though separated they seem are always in relation. In this frequency we are also lured into a labyrinth constructed of thousands of beer crates just as we are lured into addiction, and we are tasked to find our way out, as no matter how dark the night may be, there will always be the break of dawn, as much as we are invited into a former aeroplane hangar unravels varying sediments of history, as the Second World War military hangar cached as a farmhouse, and now declared a pavilion in relation with the history of sonsbeek dating back to 1949, and as a pavilion now hosting a sculpture made of historical bricks, such that the distances of time collapse under the weight of history and labour. This frequency is an invitation to listen deeper to the connections between our various worlds, to perceive that which is brought by the roots that have sipped the waters of another continent, and to imagine commonalities that exist not despite our differences but because of them.

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